Thursday, August 27, 2020

The British move into Greece

 <p>It seems that the only port available to carry the British into Greece and to sustain them was the Piraeus port associated with Athens. The Piraeus could handle unloading some "3,000 tons of cargo" per day. That was enough to supply the size of British force that was planned. They had given up any hope of keeping "Salonika; and Volos the only other port that could have supplied the British force" was limited to ships of 6,000 tons or less. There was one other small port, Stilis. But the Greeks wanted to keep it as a place to put rolling stock withdrawn from Macedonia.</p> 

<p>General Wilson's "senior administrative officer" had traveled to Athens on 23 February 1941, He would have but one port and only limited rail service and roads. Of course, the rail lines were in use by the Greeks to supply their force in Albania. The British were unable to have any local labor, transport, or supplies. One of the first steps to take was to send what supplies were in Athens to Larisa. As soldiers arrived in Athens, they would also be sent forward to Larisa. They would attempt to create supply dumps at seven locations. They fully expected that rail traffic was vulnerable to German air attack. "By the end of the first week in April" they had succeeded in creating the supply dumps that were planned.</p>

<p>18th March 1941 saw the 1st Armoured Brigade and "about half of the New Zealand Division" arrive in Greece. Over the period of 19 to 22 March, "the 16th Australian Brigade" had been transported to Greece. Very recently, the 16h Australian Brigade had been located in Tobruk. Before traveling to Greece, the battalions of the 16th Brigade were issued Thompson submachine guns. The men of the 16th Brigade had been turned loose in Alexandria. When it was decided to ship them out immediately, they had to be rounded up, without being able to have any secrecy. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.</p>

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The German attack in Greece

 <p>As the German attack was about to happen, General Wilson was asking his staff to look at the options for lines of withdrawal. Plans existed at this point for evacuating the British force from Greece. The Australian General Blamey expected that they would face "over-whelming German forces". Given General Blamey's lack of background, he performed better than you might have expected.</p>

<p>General Wilson was focused on Greece that lay east of the Pindus mountains and "west of Salonika". There was one railway that connected the area with Athens. On Thessaly, the line went through a pass "between Mount Olympus and the sea". It then crossed the Aliakmon river. Past the river, the line branched. One branch went to Salonika. The other branch ended up in Yugoslavia. Another line connected Salonika with Yugoslavia "through the Doiran gap". There was one main road that connected Athens with Macedonia. The road lay west of Mount Olympus then ran to Yugoslavia "through the Monastir Gap".</p>

<p>The Athens-Florina road was not good, although it was the best Greek road. The road was largely asphalt, although some was "macadam". The road often was reduced to one lane. The rail line that connected Athens to Salonika was one track of "standard gauge". A branch line to Volos "was only a meter wide" Greece had but "1, 353 .miles of rail line. They were short of "rolling stock." This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.</p>

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

More preparations for a German attack in Greece

 <p>The Yugoslavs thought that the British would be in the Lake Doiran-Struma area, between the Greek and Yugoslav forces. The Greeks and Yugoslavs agreed that Yugoslav forces would help with an attack in Albania that would be between Tirana and Valona. They hoped to push the Italians out of Albania. The British hoped to have three divisions and an armored brigade. At the moment they only had the armored brigade, one division and part of another. The Yugoslavs were disppointed at the news. The British suggested that the Yugoslav forces try to fight the Germans in the mountains. The Yugoslavs seemed to have a defeatest attitude. General Wilson and General Papagos agreed that they should hold the Vermion-Olympus line. They were waiting for the Australians to arrive and allow the 12th Greek Division to move forward. General Wilson was getting worried about the state of the Yugoslavs and wondered if they collapsed, that the Germans would be able to move into Greece "across the rear of the Vermion-Olympus line.</p>

<p>General Blamey arrived in Greece by 31 March, and he made a reconnaissance of the Vermion-Olympus line. Blamey sent a message to the Australian government that was similar to the concerns expressed by General Wilson. Churchill, as was his way, was a wild-eyed optimist. There was his story of a Balkan front with 70 divisions. The Germans might have six to seven divisions to fight the British armored brigade, the New Zealand Division and "two Greek divisions". By 4 April, having any useful contribution by the Yugoslavs seemed unlikely. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.</p>

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Consultations with Yugoslavia prior to the German attack

 <p>Prior to a meeting, the British agreed to tell the Yugoslav government that they would "reinforce the line of the Bulgarian border and the Nestos river'  if they would attack into Bulgaria and Albania when the Germans attacked." The Greek leader told the British that the Yugolslav army had 24 infantry divisions and 3 cavalry divisions. The Greek leader was hopeful that they could have the Yugoslav army available, because it would help the Greeks a lot.</p>

<p>General Dill, the CIGS, met with the Yugoslav government on 31 March 1941. He told them that the British were going to have about 150,000 men in Greece and had about half of them in place already. The Yugoslavs asked if the British "would be concentrated on the Doiran Gap" and Dill replied that they could not do that without assurances that the Yugoslavs would cooperate. The Yugoslavs replied that they could not agree to help the Greeks without agreement from their whole government. General Dill then replied that the British would help Yugoslavia as much as they could. There was talk of a meeting with British, Greek, and Yugoslava staff on 3 April.</p>

<p>The planned meeting was held and lasted overnight. The Yugoslav officer told them that having Salonika was "vital". He suggested that Greek forces "east of Struma and in the Metaxis Line should remain on the defensive". It turned out that the Yugoslavs "had only four divisions in the south". The British should strike at the "right flank of the German advance. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.</p>

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Starting the British operation in Greece

 <p>You could tell what the future was thought to hold by the fact that there was interest in doing reconnaissance, looking for good places that might be used in defense during a retreat. This was happening at time when the British were talking with a Yugoslav staff officer about possible cooperation. The Yugoslavs wanted to talk about "maintaining communications with Yugoslavia through Salonika." When General Wavell's Chief of Staff arrived, Wilson and his staff wanted to talk to him about getting some help with the reconnaissance  of the retreat path. While these discussions were underway in Greece, the Italians started a new offensive in Albania where they were fighting a smaller Greek force but not making much progress. While the staff officer was in Greece, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia visited Germany. Yugoslavia's leaders decided to join with Germany. In reaction to the news, a coup was staged in Yugoslavia, putting King Peter in power.</p>

<p>Churchill's natural bent was to be a "wild optimist". ?The news of the coup caused his spirits to soar." Churchill went so far as to think that there was now a good possibility of forming a "Balkan front". Churchill chose to ignore the Turkish position that "they would remain neutral except if attacked". For the Balkan front to be a real possibility, they needed to hold the roads from Greece to Yugoslavia and to hold Salonika. Anthony Eden and General Dill, the CIGS, They decided to make some promises to the Yugoslav government in hopes that they would cooperate against the Germans. The Yugoslavs, though, were not ready to promise any cooperation with Greece. This is  based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.</p>

Monday, August 10, 2020

Battle of Cape Matapan

The first report received on 27 March 1941 was that three Italian cruisers and a destroyer were seen. Admiral Cunningham took that report to indicate that Italian large ships were at sea. In the dark, the British Mediterranean Fleet set sail from Alexandria. Early on 28 March, an aircraft flying off of the Formidable reported seeing "four Italian cruisers and six destroyers". A British cruiser squadron scouting ahead of the fleet saw the Italians. The Italians withdrew after seeing the British cruisers. By 11am, the cruisers saw a battleship, which we now know was the Vittorio Veneto. The Vittorio Veneto had apparently taken damage from British air attacks.  The cruiser Pola was also damaged by bombs. The British battleships encountered the "Fiume and Zara". They sank the Fiume and damaged the Zara. British destroyers sank the Zara and Pola and two destroyers. The Vittorio Veneto was able to increase speed and escape. The battle probably caused the Italians to stay in port to try and protect what ships they had left.</p>

<p>The British tried to hide their presence in Greece so as to not give the Germans any excuses for action. In line with that, General Wilson was in civilian clothes and called himself "Mr. Watt". There was also an officer from the "Yugoslav General Staff" who as also using an assumed name. Yugoslavia was in a politically unstable situation. They also were very weak. The Yugoslava staff officer was thought to be collecting information to help the leader decide what course to take.</p>

<p>General Wilson was worried that the Germans might attack before the British force had landed. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.</p>

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Events at sea prior to the Greek operation

<p>Once the decision had been made to send forces to Greece, the first steps were to increase the air power available. Two British squadrons (a wing) were sent to aid the Greeks in Albania. Three complete squadrons and parts of two more were at Athens, "under Air Vice-Marshal D'Albiac's command". A few Swordfish aircraft arrive with the role of attacking Italian supply lines to Albania.</p>
<p>The first movement of British troops to Greece was pretty much unapposed. Admiral Cunningham expected that at some point, the Italians would send larger surface warships to attack the troops at sea. On 27 March, a report listed three Italian cruisers and a destroyer "80 miles south of Sicily". Admiral Cunningham took the British Mediterranean fleet to sea from Alexandria. A convoy on the way to Greece was told to reverse course at dusk. A scout aircraft from the Formidable "reported seeing four Italian cruisers and six destroyers", at dawn on 28 March. Four British cruisers sighted the Italian ships. "They put out in pursuit. The British battleships followed them". At 11am, the British cruisers saw an Italian battleship. The ship was attacked by aircraft from the Formidable. "The next sighting was of five Italian cruisers and five destroyers. They were some one hundred miles north". They realized that the Italian battleship was the Vittorio Veneto. Attacks apparently caused damage which reduced its speed. The Italian heavy cruiser Pola was bombed by British aircraft. Darkness fell with British battleships far away still. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.</p>

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Arrangements for the Greek Operation

<p>Both the Australian and New Zealand governments, after learning the truth about the Greek operation still agreed to participate, but both wanted assurance that plans were ready for a withdrawal when the operation was seen to fail. An interesting point is that both the Australian prime minister, Mr. Menzies, and General Blamey had both asked if the Australian general Blamey should be the commander of the operation. In late February 1941, General Blamey had informed Mr. Menzies that he had made the suggestion to General Wavell. The reasoning was that most of the troops involved were "Dominion", meaning Australian and New Zealand. The Australian defense secretary, Mr. Shedden had made the same suggestion for the same reason. General Blamey had bee in the A.I.F. in the Great War, and had seen the same problem. Many Dominion troops and all commanded by British officers. One factor in favor of Blamey is that his staff had been in existence for almost a year. They were all very top men. General Wilson had an ad hoc group, to which he had just added Brigadier Galloway.</p>
<p>With the Greek campaign pending, General Blamey had to deal with commanding the corps in the Greek Operation as well as commanding the rest of the AIF. As events developed, British forces were "trickled into Greece". By the end of February 1941, the British had 7 squadrons in Greece. They proceeded to expand this further.</p>
<p>By early March, a portion of the 1st Armoured Brigade, advance units of the I Australian Corps, New Zealand Division, and the 6th Australian Division were carried to Greece  ub three cruisers. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.</p>

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